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JAKARTA: Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Tuesday announced that booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine would be provided free for all citizens.

The government U-turn on plans to charge most Indonesians for their third jab, will see the program start on Wednesday with priority given to the elderly and vulnerable groups.

Although the primary COVID-19 vaccine doses have been state subsidized, officials and government bodies had repeatedly suggested that booster jabs would only be free for citizens aged 60 and over and those without the means to pay.

In his Tuesday statement, Widodo pointed out that the booster program was an “important effort to increase the people’s immunity considering that the coronavirus continues to mutate.”

He said: “With that in mind, I have decided that the administration of the third doses will be free for all Indonesians. Because, once again, the safety of the people is our priority.”

Indonesians who received their second vaccine shot at least six months ago would be eligible for a third dose, he added.

More than 116 million people in the southeast Asian country have been fully vaccinated, out of a government-set target of 208 million.

On Monday, the country’s food and drugs regulatory agency BPOM gave its approval for the emergency use of five COVID-19 vaccines for booster shots, namely CoronaVac by China’s Sinovac, Zifivax from China’s Anhui Zhifei Longcom, Vaxzevria by the UK’s AstraZeneca, Spikevax from the US’ Moderna, and Comirnaty by America’s Pfizer.

Indonesia has recorded more than 4.2 million COVID-19 cases and in excess of 144,000 deaths. In July, the country grappled with a devastating second wave of infections, driven by the delta variant, but case numbers have dwindled since then.

 

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